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Infant Dies in New E. Coli Outbreak

Ongoing Toxic E. Coli O145 Outbreak: 14 Cases in 6 States, Cause Unknown
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 8, 2012 -- A New Orleans infant is dead and 13 others in six states have been sickened in an ongoing E. coli outbreak.

All of the known cases are caused by a strain of E. coli O145 with the same DNA signature.

The cause of the outbreak is unknown, although CDC and state health officials are working feverishly to identify what the victims had in common and to trace the outbreak to its source. It's not yet known whether this is a food-borne outbreak, CDC spokeswoman Lola Russell tells WebMD.

The 21-month-old New Orleans girl died on May 31. Two other known cases are in New Orleans. Reported cases are in Georgia (two in Cobb County and one each in Cherokee, Coweta, and Forsyth counties), Alabama (2), California (1), Florida (one in Leon County), Louisiana (4 ),  and Tennessee (1).

The first reported illness in the outbreak was on April 15; the most recent illness onset was May 12. The outbreak is considered to be ongoing, as people infected with the outbreak strain may not yet have fallen ill. It usually takes two or three weeks for a case to be reported to the CDC.

A child in Massachusetts recently died of E. coli. However, that child was infected with an E. coli O157 strain not related to this outbreak.


Symptoms of Toxic E. Coli Infection

While many strains of E. coli are normal residents of a healthy gut, some strains cause disease. E. coli O145 is one of them. It's one of the E. coli strains that carry Shiga toxin. These strains are called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC), verocytotoxic E. coli (VTEC), or enterohemorrhagic E. coli (EHEC).

People infected with STEC usually fall ill three or four days later, although they may get sick as soon as one day or as many as 10 days after infection. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting. Some patients get a fever, but it's usually less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

E. coli illness usually goes away in five to seven days. But 5% to 10% of people with STEC infections get a very severe, life-threatening complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome or HUS. Symptoms of HUS include decreased urination, fatigue, and loss of the pink color in the cheeks and lower eyelids. People with HUS need urgent care, as the complication can lead to kidney failure or death.

Although healthy people of any age can get E. coli infections and even HUS, very young children and the elderly are at highest risk.

A person infected with STEC may carry the bug for weeks or even months after symptoms go away.

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